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Anyone who has lived in a developing country knows that tuberculosis (TB) is no joke. This disease is caused by a bacteria and usually attacks the lungs, but TB can attack any part of the body. If not treated properly, TB can be fatal. TB was once the leading cause of death in the United States; thankfully TB cases are now fairly rare in the US. However, TB is still prevalent throughout the world: TB is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide due to a single infectious agent.
TB is spread through the air, so it can be a very infectious disease. That's why testing for TB is mandatory for many employers in a healthcare setting or a school setting. It's also mandatory for foreign students coming to study in the US, incoming students of any age in some states. It is also recommended for travelers who anticipate prolonged exposure to persons with TB while traveling.
I've had the TB test many times since coming to the US -- as a foreign student, as an employee with a work permit, for my green card, and when I applied to work at my kids' elementary school. My kids have had it as well (all California students are required to have it).
I have to be honest, the TB skin test is kind of a pain. To start with, the skin test involves injecting some fluid (called tuberculin) into the skin in the lower part of the arm. Then you have to come back to the clinic within 48-72 hours to have the injection site inspected for any reactions. There was a time I forgot to come back and have my daughter's injection site inspected, so we had to do it all over again! What's more, the injection site can get really itchy, which is annoying if your child is the one itching!
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Most likely, though, the reason for my positive result is a false positive, because my dad (a doctor) injected all his kids with the TB vaccination (BCG) every year. It's well documented that previous TB vaccinations are likely to cause false positive results. This just leads to extra hassle for me because I then have to get a lung x-ray to prove that I don't have TB.
There's a solution for people who don't want the hassles of the regular skin TB test and for people who get false positives like me: the TB blood test. The blood test measures a person's immune system reaction to TB bacteria by testing the person's blood in a laboratory. It's more accurate and more convenient:
- The most accurate test for TB infection – no cross reaction with a previous TB vaccination
- Only a 3ml draw of fresh blood - irrespective/regardless of patient age/immune status
- The convenience of having just 1 visit
In fact, the CDC does say that the TB blood test is better for people who have had BCG immunizations and for people who find it difficult to make it back for the follow-up visit! That's my family and I right there! If you're due for a TB test, make sure you ask your health provider about the TB blood test. Let's face it, you've got enough on your mind without having to worry about a missed follow-up visit or a positive test result that might not even mean anything serious.